Guest article by Martin Wetzels, Christopher Lovelock Career Contributions Award Recipient 2023.

The world as we know it has been changing at an ever-increasing pace, or as Mr. Spock puts it in Star Trek The Original Series (TOS) ”Change is the essential process of all existence.” The changes we are currently witnessing are driven by two megatrends: (1) the increasing proliferation of services in the global economy and (2) the emergence of digital technology, unstructured data and advanced analysis models, including Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The service community has been at the forefront of service transformation of the economy and society and increasingly service scholars have started realizing the potential paradigmatic challenges of new types of data and data analysis approaches for service research. These are exciting times for service researchers and especially for service researchers in the early stages of their career. As the 2023 recipient of the Christopher Lovelock Career Contributions Award I would like to provide some guidance using the Star Trek universe as a stage for the learning experience of early career academics in Service Research universe.

The rise of the Star Trek franchise remarkably coincides with the growing importance of the service sector in the economies worldwide and the advent of Service Research in academia and practice. The Original Series, or TOS (1966-1969), witnessed the foundational origin of the service research domain, while the successor franchises such as The Next Generation, or TNG (1987-1994), Deep Space Nine, or DS9 (1993-1999) and Voyager (1995-2001), witnessed the service research domain branching out and growing into a dynamic and promising field. This period also saw the foundation of the first dedicated journals in the service domain: (1) Journal of Services Marketing (1987), Journal of Service Management (1990), Journal of Service Theory and Practice (1991) and Journal of Service Research (1998). 

In retrospective there are surprising parallels between the evolution of Service Research universe and Star Trek universe. First of all, just as in Star Trek universe Service Research has branched out into different timelines and from the alpha quadrant to the gamma and delta quadrants. We see that the service domain has become more diverse and inclusive in terms of its theoretical roots, the geographical affiliation of lead authors and of the gender of lead authors involved in service research. For example, it is interesting to note that for Journal of Service Research (JSR)’s theoretical roots have steadily increased from originating initially from five disciplines in 1998 to almost twenty disciplines in 2022. This clearly underlines the inherent multidisciplinary and eclectic nature of research in the service research domain. For JSR we can also observe a clear convergence towards a more equal gender distribution of lead authors and the rise of more international diverse author base with non-North American service scholars now representing almost 75% of the lead authors, which represents a complete reversal of the situation in 1998 with approximately 75% of the lead authors originating from North America. It is also remarkable that the role of Captain Janeway in Star Trek Voyager foreshadowed the prominence of leading female service researchers, also in their role of editors, such as Kay Lemon, Mary-Jo Bitner and Ming-Hui Huang.

For early career researchers it is important to join Starfleet Academy, or in the Service Research universe, join SERVSIG, the EMAC Service Marketing SIG or equivalents to learn about the opportunities and core values of the service research domain and to reach out to other service researchers at relevant service conferences, such as Frontiers in Service, SERVSIG, QUIS, etc. Early career researchers should also always join the away team and visit other schools to develop their research skills, identify what is hot and what is not in service research and meet and network with potential collaborators. Although some topics are hotter (or colder) than others, there are always hot spots in cold(er) topics and cold spots in hot(ter) topics.

The bridge crew in Star Trek (analogous to the author team in Service Research) is inherently diverse and includes individuals with different personalities from different disciplines with complementary research skills and competences. Build your own bridge team early in your career and bring in researchers with complementary research skills. Again, that is why joining the away team is essential to for early career scholars to develop their research skills and position their own research profile.

In Star Trek mentoring and asking advice plays an essential role and I would strongly recommend that early career service research scholars should seek advice from experienced scholars to help them to develop their ideas into impactful research projects that advance our knowledge in the service domain. Take advantage of the core values of Star Trek to boldly go where no service researcher has gone before to carve out your contributions and develop a unique research profile that makes you stand apart in the service research domain. Be willing to take risks to leave established research paths. Explore new ideas, novel data types and analysis approaches. Take service research to the next level and explore the new, strange service worlds, but always respect the Prime Directive of Service Research. Sometimes this means to explore opportunities in an objective and systematic fashion (Mr. Spock-style), sometimes this means following one’s intuition and improvise (Captain Kirk-style). But definitely, you should “Make it so…” (Captain Picard-style)…

Live long and prosper!

Mr Spock
“Change is the essential process of all existence.”
— Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, Season 3, Episode 15

Prof. Dr. Martin Wetzels
EDHEC Business School, Lille Campus, France